There are few things more American than the U. S. Cavalry. Think of John Ford’s famous old western, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, about the wars on the Great Plains. The film turns on the pending retirement of two veteran Cavalry Troopers, First Sergeant Timothy Quincannon, played by Victor MacLaglen, and Captain Nathan Brittles, played by John Wayne.
The First Sergeant stated: “The Army will never be the same when we retire, sir.”
But the captain knew better. “The Army is always the same. The sun and the moon change, but the Army knows no seasons.”
The Army is always the same. That movie had it right. Uniforms change. Faces change. Weapons and tactics change. But at its core, the Army is always the same. The Cavalry is always the same. And that is a result of a few men chosen to set and enforce the standards: the First Sergeants.
The essentials of Command Sergeant Major Dick Morgan’s account would be very familiar to Timothy Quincannon or Nathan Brittles. But in the world of The First Sergeants, the enemies are not Plains warriors on swift ponies, but the armored regiments of the Soviet Russians over across the wire. Dick Morgan’s Troopers do not ride the yellowing long grass of the Great Plains, but instead defend the rolling farmland of south central Germany. Their mounts are not big brown Federal horses, but great green snorting, clanking tanks capable of shooting a projectile the size of a fire extinguisher more than a mile away. And yet, from the Cavalry of the Plains Wars to the Cavalry of the Cold War, there is continuity. And that is embodied in the service and character of the men who make the Cavalry what it is—the First Sergeants.
For younger Americans, the dangerous stand-off between Americans and Russians in central Germany is as distant as the campaigning against the Sioux in the Dakota Territory. From today’s vantage, it all seems very clear that the Soviets were doomed to collapse without initiating Armageddon, an outcome that to too many seems neatly preordained. But it was anything but inevitable to those who lived it, and indeed, made it so. For 46 years, from 1945 until 1991, men like Dick Morgan held the line, day and night, in heat and cold, in choking dust and driving rain. Their skill, discipline, determination—and guts—broke the will of the Russians, and ensured that the Cold War ended with a whimper, not a bang. This is their story.
Daniel P. Bolger
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army